Assorted Questions and Thoughts

Fear: sometimes fear is incredibly helpful. Fear has helped me get my shit together for moving to a new country. Unfortunately fear is also making me want to grab all my friends and throw them into a cuddle puddle and curl up in a little ball under all of them and never move again. Sometimes fear is based on reality (there are some threats to me in moving to a new country and so I need to take precautions) and sometimes it goes crazy and gets out of hand and convinces me that I’m probably being chased by a fucking bear when I’m actually just sitting at work typing. I suppose there should be easy ways to tell when fear makes sense and when it does (look for bears: no bears? Good to go.) And yet that doesn’t make my heart stop pounding and my ears stop ringing. Where did evolution go wrong?

Rightness: Most people think that the beliefs they hold are right (or they wouldn’t hold them. I suppose some people hold beliefs because they feel comforted or they want those beliefs to be right, but generally a requirement for belief is thinking something is true). And yet the likelihood that any of us have 100% correct beliefs is pretty much 0. How do we move forward and act in the world knowing that in all likelihood some (if not most) of our beliefs are incorrect? We probably don’t know which ones are the wrong ones or we’d have changed them. We may not even be able to know which are incorrect. What is the best course of action in this situation? I think somewhere in here lies the difference between “faith” of the religious variety and belief. Faith does not look for more information to constantly update its worldview. It has its conclusion and it’s done. I think it is possible to have faith of this type in nonreligious settings. Belief ideally is a temporary condition. You think you know something and you operate off of it but you seek out new and better information.

Yesterday I was talking to my therapist about anxiety and thinking that I would crash and burn in Ireland and fall back into really nasty depression. She looked at me and listed some of the stuff I’ve managed to do in the last two years: take a year off of school despite thinking it meant I’d never accomplish anything, survive a job that I hated every moment of while dealing with intense anxiety, boredom, and depression for 8 hours uninterrupted each day, quitting that job to take a lower paying job, not having any idea where my future is going or what I want out of my life, actually forcing myself to be social despite huge anxieties and making a good circle of friends…the more she listed the more I realized that even just thinking about many of these things now they sound impossible. But I did them. I don’t know that I can call myself “recovered” but perhaps “in recovery” (I hate these terms) and I never, ever, ever thought that that was a possibility and still don’t entirely believe it. But once she pointed out how much I had survived and even thrived through, the more I realized that recognizing that isn’t just about feeling good about myself or patting myself on the back, it’s more about knowing that I can do it and if I’ve done it all once then I can do it again. The fear still exists, but there is knowledge underneath it now that I have succeeded before and that is comforting.

I wish that there were ways to fulfill more kinds of attraction with different people. In the past week I’ve felt serious romantic, sensual, intellectual, aesthetic, and friendly attraction to a variety of different people. In my experience we have two potential words for all of these (plus sexual) attraction: dating or friends. There are some slight variations on these (friends with benefits, casually dating, married), but overall there’s either “sexy/romantic” or “friendly”. I like labels and maybe there’s no reason to label these things, but I think it’s nice to understand what’s fulfilling about different relationships and let people know that they have a priority in your life. I also like to be able to have a template for interacting with people: dating type interactions are different from friend type interactions, and I do different things in them, and different things are considered baseline acceptable. If there were a word for “you’re my brain crush” maybe there would be more clear ways to move forward with fulfilling the need for deep conversation or intellectual interaction. As it is you kind of let someone know you want to be around them in some fashion or other but the only further specification  you might be able to give is “I have a crush on you” which implies romantic/sexual things. I just like to be able to place people in my own network and have clarity about my own feelings and the feelings of others.

One of the things that scares me most about myself is that I am often positioned socially as “smarter than”. I really have no idea if I’m actually smarter than most of the people that I know but people keep telling me I am. I hate writing about things like this because I sound intensely vain, but the purpose of this paragraph is not “I’m so smart!!!” it’s that it’s fairly isolating to be in that position, and as I’ve written before it often leads to inadvertently saying things that others interpret as making them look stupid (or things that really are truly insensitive because others don’t accomplish as quickly as I do or don’t understand in the way I do). But yesterday I was talking to someone who hates feeling less smart than others. I think this is far more common: few people like feeling stupid or uninformed. I feel like there are parallels to some of the other things I’ve mentioned: situations where we know that fear or our beliefs might be ill-informed, but there’s no right way out. In this case, we all know that there probably has to be a “smarter” person in any given interaction but no one wants to be on either side of it. Perhaps this is a place for radical acceptance. There will always be some discomfort in uneven situations but we don’t have to infer bad intentions or judgment because of that discomfort. There have been some classrooms in which I haven’t felt uncomfortable when I know more than others or others know more than I do as the atmosphere is one of sheer curiosity. I don’t know how to promote this kind of environment in other places, but this gives me hope that it’s possible.

I’ve noticed that most people I talk to about philosophical/existential type questions typically view them as abstract exercises which might have some impact on the way they live their life if they come to a fairly solid conclusion that demands action of some sort. This is not what philosophy is like for me. I feel it emotionally, as important to the meaning of my life. I’ve always wondered why this is the case, and I’ve imagined that it’s probably just to do with mental illness. However I had a realization today that on a regular basis I have to question my own sensory perception. I cannot see my body accurately: I have some pretty severe distortions in my body image and I often find myself legitimately confused about whether or not I’m horribly overweight or underweight or normal. It can shift hour to hour whether I can see my body remotely accurately. And so most days I’m uncertain about whether I’m seeing reality. This makes questions of coming to logical conclusions rather than conclusions based on observation far more pressing to me. Every day I am faced with the philosophical quandary of whether or not external reality is there and what I think it is. I emotionally feel the deep confusion of looking at something and wondering if it’s just my mind playing tricks on me. I don’t know that there is a conclusion to this thought, but it’s illuminating to realize that some people can emotionally experience what for others are thought experiments. Perhaps it is a starting point for increased empathy, but perhaps it also suggests that those who do face these questions in their daily lives may have more insight into the situation (just as we tend to prioritize women’s voices in understanding women’s experiences or queer voices in understanding queer experiences). At the very least, it suggests that there might be more ways to do philosophy than through logic and thought experiments.

Pride

Libby Anne and Dan Fincke at Patheos have a pretty fantastic series going that stresses engagement and civic thinking. They’re both part of the atheist/skeptical community (as am I), and have been putting out biweekly prompts that ask other bloggers to consider ethical and civic questions of importance.

This week’s prompt is about pride, the value of pride and the nature of pride.

I have a peculiar relationship to pride. I live in Minnesota, and here in the great Midwest, we don’t really do pride. Bragging is anathema. The humble brag rules, and being too proud is definitely considered weird. In general, I have fairly negative feelings towards pride, although I don’t view it as a sin or vice in the same way that I was raised to view it (in a Catholic school). In my mind, pride always has the ring of bragging or being overly self-involved. I realize that this is not the dictionary definition of pride, but it is always how I have considered pride. Being proud of someone else is completely acceptable, but being proud of yourself seems immodest.

I do think that something like positive pride is hugely important, but I would prefer to call it self-respect. This is the personal sense that you have done something well, and feel good about yourself. You can recognize your positives and accomplishments. That is great. That is something we need to cultivate more of, since the culture that I live in is one of “never good enough”. Pride involves showing it to others in my mind. And sometimes that’s ok. Sometimes you want to share, sometimes it’s healthy and wonderful to share. But the important kernel is the internal self-respect that says you acknowledge yourself as good.

In general, I think that some measure of modesty is great. It’s quite easy to put others down by bragging about your own accomplishments, it often makes you look foolish, and recognizing where you can improve is great. I think that modesty is 100% compatible with self-respect, because self-respect is internal, and modesty is about how you broadcast things to the outside world. But as always, there needs to be a balance between these two extremes. Modesty helps you to respect and care about others. It greases social wheels. It makes you more approachable. But self-respect (even sometimes branching into pride) helps you care for yourself by letting you acknowledge and honor the things that you have done, by allowing you to rest at times, and by giving you an emotional reward when you do well.

Sometimes pride does serve a social purpose, like pride in someone else or your group. Generally, I believe being proud of ‘your team’ or ‘your country’ is a little silly, since you have no actual ownership of whatever they have done. Being proud of someone else usually means to me that you respect them for it, that you feel they’ve done well. It’s more of a congratulations than anything else, but on a deep level, a level that says you feel happy to be associated with them. I wish that there was a word for this other than pride, because it seems to have a distinctly different flavor to it than personal pride. Where personal pride is about feeling good about yourself or telling others about what you’ve done, pride for someone else is about recognition of what they have done.

There is also group pride, particularly for marginalized groups. I really can’t speak to racial or ethnic pride, because I am not part of a marginalized racial group, but as a woman and as someone with mental illness I can’t understand feeling pride over those identities. Again, pride to me holds an element of boastfulness. There is nothing to boast about with these things. I cannot understand being proud of anything you have not achieved yourself. I do feel compassion, respect, care, and community for the other people in these groups and for my role in these groups. I feel that for many of these people I’m proud of them for surviving. But I am not proud of my status as a member of these groups, because for me pride is reserved for actions, and it is to be earned. However where an emotion plays a positive role in helping someone to deal with their marginalization, I certainly can’t speak against it. For other marginalized individuals, pride might be very important, and I have absolutely no right to take that away from them.

In general, I wish we had more words for pride, to distinguish the emotions that it contains. There are very valuable elements to pride; recognizing oneself, giving oneself permission to rest or recuperate after an accomplishment, feeling good about oneself, respecting oneself, or recognizing a good thing another person has done. In general, I feel that all of these things can be subsumed under respect, because I don’t see what in addition to respect there is about “positive pride”. The prideful element that seems to be added is the boastful, bragging, or raising yourself over others. I’ve never understood the importance of tooting our own horns. Whenever I see patriotism touted as positive, or ethnic pride, I’m simply left wondering what for? Can’t we illustrate our goodness through our actions instead of obsessively patting ourselves on the back? There’s got to be a way to feel good about yourself without throwing a parade.